Monday, May 28, 2012


A HORSE WITH NO NAME. A favorite annual activity at Camp Stotsenburg is the holding of a Sports Week or Sports Carnival, which featured  equestrian events such as polo, horseback riding and horse dressage, which includes obstacle racing such as the one shown on the photo above. ca. 1915.

Fort Stotsenburg, the precursor of Clark Air Base, started as a military camp with the size of 7,600 acres. By 1908, it had expanded to 158,277 acres, to include parts of Dolores in Mabalacat, Bamban and Zambales Mountains, including the Pinatubo area. The size and breadth of the enlarged military camp was perfect for exploration and adventure, especially on horseback. Soon, Stotsenburg became an ideal equestrian paradise, the site of many horse-based sports competition, field events and exhilarating horse rides on mountain sides and ridges, amidst wild but spectacular surroundings.

 A certain Capt. H. A. Myers was lavish in his recommendation of the camp environs, noting that “the Stotsenburg Reservation and nearby country in general, offers much that is worthwhile for persons interested in mounted activities. Not only is there much pleasure to be derived from riding over the country, but there is much beautiful scenery and many interesting landmarks to be seen”. Horse trails led to the lush and luxuriant Fern Canyon, whose main attractions are its variety of giant ferns that dot its landscape. There was also a Lost Canyon that abounded with colored birds and orchids.

Trails were fancifully named according to the natural characteristics of the terrain—Three Crater Trail, Top o’ the World Hill, Banyan Trail, Dead Horse Pass Trail and Dry River Bed Trail, among others. Soldiers and their families took to riding these trails during their off-duty hours every Wednesday, with pit stops along the way. There were waterfalls and swimming holes where people could take refreshing dips as well as good viewing spots from where one could survey the camp and the surrounding areas. But it was easy to get lost too, and there have been reported cases of missing people. In 1919 for example, 4 army men were trapped by rising waters in a narrow canyon along the Bamban River, necessitating their rescue by the daring army pilot, Lt. Ira Eaker. 

Meanwhile, equestrian field events were being introduced as early as 1909 in Stotsenburg. The most popular were the polo games, and at one point, the polo teams of the camp claimed to be the best in the Far East. During the term of post commander, Brig. Gen. Hagood Johnson, the army polo team played against the visiting Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) in 1922. Polo fields were laid out in the base parade grounds and regular polo tournaments were soon being held every April, during the Sports Week. Though skilled and experienced, the American team were no match against the “Los Tamaraos” (the team of Elizalde brothers), which had more superior horses that the Filipino-Spanish millionaires could very well afford.

 In the mid 20s, Stotsenburg held Sports Carnivals that included golf, ball games and riding events. The equestrian competition included dressage, horse-jumping events and bareback riding, with silver cups awarded to champion teams and individual winners. Much of the riding trails have all but been changed with the continuous alteration and modification of the camp grounds. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo obliterated not just the trails but also permanently changed the landscape of the military base. Beginning in 2009, the picnic grounds of Clark Field became alive again with the sounds of trotting horses and ponies.

Today, the spacious grounds near the Mabalacat exit gate have been transformed into a riding range, with a pseudo-main street complex that sports a wild, wild west theme complete with a salon named “El Kabayo”. Here, one can rent horses and ponies by the hour, for a leisurely ride around the picturesque grassy trail canopied by giant mimosa trees. The sight of smiling kids on ponies led by guides and more experienced riders galloping at full speed certainly brings back memories of old Clark in the 1920s and 30s, when it held repute among sports and leisure lovers as an equestrian paradise.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


YOU MATER HERE. Seminarians of Our Lady of Good Counsel Seminary pose for their class picture. The seminary was first located in Guagua, which dates this photo to the 1950-51.

Since 1950, hundreds of boys have found and fulfilled their calling in the premiere seminary of Pampanga, Mater Boni Consilii (Mother of Good Counsel) Seminary—or simply called “Mater Boni”, presently located in San Fernando. Its history spans a little more than 5 decades, involving 3 Pampanga towns and key characters that included 3 men on the verge of priesthood and a bishop who gave the impetus for the seminary’s foundation.

It all started with a visit to the newly-named Bishop of San Fernando, Most Rev. Cesar Ma. Guerrerro D.D. by seminarians Basilio David, Eulalio Yabut, and Antonio Ibay. When asked about the planned projects for the new diocese of San Fernando, the bishop revealed his dream to build a boys’ school where subjects like Math and English could be taught—not a seminary in the strictest sense of the word. But one thing led to another, and on 4 July 1950, a building (now known as the Rufino Cardinal Santos Bldg.) in Guagua was out up to house “Mater Boni Consilii”, a boys’s school so named after the good bishop’s favorite devotion.

Mater Boni was initially conceived as an adjunct to St. Michael’s Colleges as it certainly did not function as a seminary---the handful of student enrollees there were even issued report cards from St. Michael’s. Later, it adopted the secondary curriculum of San Jose Seminary that incorporated the study of the classics and the languages like Latin and English. As its curriculum evolved, so did the school. Eventually, Mater Boni was officially transformed into a seminary manned by no less than the 3 seminarians—now ordained as priests—whose visit stirred Bishop’s Guerrero into actualizing his vision : Fr. Basilio David (Rector), Fr. Eulalio Yabut (Spiritual Director) and Fr. Antonio Ibay (Procurator).

The seminary heads expected only about 5-6 initial seminarians, but to their surprise, 38 boys enrolled. It was clear that a bigger space was needed to house the growing seminarian population. In 1951, Mater Boni Seminary was moved to Apalit , but the same problem plagued the school: lack of funds, low salary scale for teachers. Newly-ordained priests were deployed by Bishop Guerrero to mentor seminarians, a job that held very little appeal.

 It was only in 1956 that the full 4-year course was offered, but due to the inadequacy of the school, the students, in their de riguer black cassock and blue sash, never numbered more than 70. Inspite of all these, interest for the priestly vocation continue to remain high, which prompted the final relocation of the seminary to a bigger, better place in San Fernando in 1962.

The site in Del Pilar was actually part of a property owned by the Diocese of San Fernando at that time. The 10-hectare lot would come to be shared equally by Mater Boni and the Assumption College (now a University), established by Most Rev. Emilio Cinense. The seminary—which now comprises both a Minor and Major Seminary –has a number of primary edifices in its ground: a 3-storey Administrative Building, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Hall (housing classrooms, dorms, study halls and blessed by the Most Rev. Carlo Martini on 7 June 1964), and the Theology-Philosophy Building. A chapel, a library, a refectory and an auditorium complete its infrastructures.

In the course of 5 decades, Mater Boni has produced a number of Kapampangan high-ranking religious leaders that include Archbishop Paciano Aniceto D.D. of Sta. Ana, the late Bishop Jesus Galang, Bishop Roberto Mallari and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David. Through the institution’s portals also passed two Bishop Formators: Bishop Onesto Ongtiuco of Cubao and Bishop Florentino Lavarias, assigned in Zambales. Today, the seminary continues with zeal, its tradition of raising and molding young boys into well-rounded Catholic men of character--that they may be credits to God, the Church, the country and to the whole “Mater Boni” family.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

*293. A Trip To Bountiful: AT THE SARI-SARI STORE

WHAT'S IN STORE? A typical Filipino roadside sari-sari store sold basic items needed for daily living--canned goods, eggs, candies, cookies,lard,  vegetables, condiments, cigarettes and candles--in individual pieces ("tingi"), making everything easy on the budget. Ca. 1910-1915.

It’s a convenience store, a meeting place, and to a small child growing up, an accessible wonderland where candies, comics, toys and dreams could be had for a few centavos. Such is the attraction of the corner tindahan—the local sari-sari store where everything has a place, and there’s a place for everything—goods and supplies for hearth and home available cheaply, easily. Sari-sari stores began as just simple provision windows operated from thatched huts.

Soon, they became extensions of the home. Every village had not just one, but two or more stores, run by Filipino and Chinese entrepreneurs. By 1938, Filipino owned sari-sari stores outnumbered those of the Chinese, 7 to 1, but the latter’s businesses reaped more profits owing to the bigger capital they plowed into their business, which was three times more than the locals.

Just like the average Filipino store in the 60s, our neighborhood sari-sari store was a modest one--no signboard, no number—but everyone knew where it was, and called it by the owner’s name, “Mang Saning”. It is located almost at the end of our street in Sta. Ines, close to the rickety Morales Bridge, just a short walk away from our place. As kids, our daily duties consisted of running errands for Mother, which meant making short trips to Saning’s whenever she ran out of posporu (matches), sabun intsik (Chinese soap), de lata, or when she needed softdrinks to refresh visiting guests.

Upon reaching the store which was sometimes left unattended, I would tap the metal cover of the garapons (glass jars) with my peso coin and holler, “Salwan na pooooo!!” (I’m buying!) to announce my presence. I would then rattle off whatever items my Mother wanted me to buy—a can of pork and beans, gulaman bars, starch, salt, a block of Purico—and then run back home.

For dutifully answering my Mother’s “tubud” (errands), I would be rewarded with tips—ten, fifteen, twenty five centavos—which would send me back running to Saning’s. I would normally ignore the canned goods arrange in pyramids on the shelves, but would scan the jars of candies, biscuits and sweets, all lined up temptingly on the front ledge of the store. For one centavo, you can buy one Texas bubble gum, a Lemon Drop candy, or a Marca SeƱorita taffy. After all, sari-sari store sales are based on the concept of “tingi”—selling in pieces and parts, as opposed to wholesale, which is about the only way a daily wage earner can buy his supplies. Hence, one could buy a stick of cigarette, a “takal” of sugar or cooking oil, a stick of gum and tingting palis.

 But in the 60s, every centavo had real value. I could buy a sipa made of papel de japon and a folded paper balloon. When I went hungry, I could munch on a crispy kropek, and for a few centavos more, enjoy a belekoy (Chinese hardened jelly laced with anise seeds) and finish a stick of chewy tira-tira. I could also opt for tsampuy, Orange-Kist, Bingo, Beatles and Marie biscuits. There were also other unbranded pastries that were just as tasty—pilipit, kamatsili and nameless pink colored cookies dusted with shredded coconut.

Of course, Mother impressed upon me not to waste my money by taking chances on the “bagutan” board, where, for 5 centavos, you can pick a rolled up paper which, when opened, contained a number corresponding to a prize displayed on the board—a big balloon, a celluloid doll, a plastic gun or a brand-new peso bill wrapped in cellophane. I’m afraid I did not always listen to her, but my efforts paid off at least in one instance; I remember winning the top item on the prize board once---a large, yellow balloon as big as my head—which I carried home proudly for my siblings to show.

My siblings too made trips to Saning’s, for different reasons. My eldest sister for instance, often went there to check the komiks for “arkila” (comic books for rent) that hung from a line across the small store and secured with clothespins. She avidly followed the story series featured in such komiks as Hiwaga, Tin-Edyer Song and Shows, Aliwan, Lagim and Tagalog Klasiks. You could read the komiks right there and then—on the bangku (wooden benches) in front of the store or you could bring the komiks home for a few centavos more. My brothers brought teks (trade cards), rubber bands, cardboard masks and perminante (gunpowder sheets) for their play guns. Mang Saning was also kind enough to let us collect for free, used cigarette wrappers which we folded into paper chains, tansans and (metal soda crowns) and cartons which which came in handy for our school arts projects.

The expansion of a Chinese-owned general merchandise store near the town market stole the thunder from Saning’s, and I must admit that at one point, I patronized that store too, what with the variety of goods and assortment of choices. But service there was always impersonal—I was either ignored or made to wait for minutes. So that’s how I went back to Saning’s.

Last time I went back to the old place in Mabalacat, Mang Saning’s store is still there—in fact, it’s even undergoing a facelift. In this age of malls, the tiny store still holds fort and continues to serve the homes and residents of our once-quiet Sta. Ines street—selling practically the same basic, bountiful stuff—from cooking oil and candles, condiments and candies, beer and soda, eggs and dried fish to scrubs, brooms, headache and cold tablets. Only now, the store also sells cell phone call cards and loads, in keeping with the high-tech times. I am glad that More than just a corner stall, the sari-sari store is a monument to the plucky entrepreneurial spirit of Filipinos that has helped him to survive through good times and bad.

Monday, May 7, 2012


THE CASTRO BROTHERS RIDE AGAIN. Manuel Morales Castro (age 5) and elder brother Gerardo (age 7) proudly show off their pet horse.  Since childhood, my father and uncle were bosom buddies in Mabalacat-- the town where they were born and raised, settled their families until the end of their lives. Dated 1931.

This is perhaps the earliest picture of my father Gerardo and his younger brother, Manuel, together. My dad, born in 1924, was about 7 years old here, while Tatang Titong--that’s how we called our uncle--was 5.They had two other siblings--the eldest, Imang Elsie and the youngest, Tatang Matt. But it was my father and uncle who gravitated towards each other, and,  in youth and in old age, they would become an inseparable pair. More than brothers by birth, they were also tight, bosom buddies, growing up and going to school together, sharing the same dreams and eventually raising their own families while living as neighbors in Mabalacat.

My Dad was a junior—and the eldest boy in the family, so by virtue of his rank, he pretty much had his own way and got away with most of his shenanigans. He took under his wing his younger brother, who would become a sort of a disciple and sidekick. During the War years, both went to the local elementary school that was Japanese-controlled. My Dad once recounted how his brother, unable to recite properly, was slapped by his impatient Japanese teacher , sending his spectacles flying. My father was enraged, of course, but could do nothing to save his poor brother from his teacher’s torment, the one rare time he could not defend him.

It was only after class that he managed to comfort my uncle, whom he endearingly called Tits, and that incident cemented their brotherly bond even more. High school found my father enrolling at the Ateneo only to be kicked out in his second year for smoking on campus. Tatang Titong, however, would go on to pursue and finish his Fine Arts studies at the University of Sto. Tomas. I remember seeing some of the artworks my uncle created as a student: oil paintings of the Last Supper, the Virgen de Antipolo, and an escayola bust of his mother, Apung Tiri.

My uncle would retain this creative streak in later years, and I would often find him tinkering in his tool room and transforming found objects into decorative items. One time, he even created candle stands for All Saints’ Day using upturned tin saucers as bases, metal tubings as candle holders and ordinary nails as candle pricks. He became a handyman, to whom we would run to repair broken toys, med household items.

When my Dad and Tatang Titong got married, both had quite a rough start in establishing this new chapter in their lives. My Dad had it easier, as he lived in my Ingkung’s place, although at one point he drove jeepneys for a living. Tatang Titong vetoed a suggestion from his parents to go on a buy-and-sell-clothing business, preferring to be a jeepney driver instead, obviously influenced by his elder brother.

For some reason, Tatang Titong ended up running a Shell Gas Station in front of Clark Field, which proved to be a viable business. He and my aunt, Imang Toring moved to Balibago where they kept house just behind the gas station they managed. I remember my many visits to their house, getting to know my first cousins up close and personal, often playing games together, spinning records and trading comic books.

INSEPARABLE AT BIRTH. Brothers Titong and Dong, sharing a drink and having a blast in  Baguio City. Early 1970s.

The oil crisis in the 70s took a toll on the revenues of my uncle’s gas station. Instead of giving it up, my father ended up buying his business, which he operated for just under a year, before he too called it quits. Tatang Titong sold their Balibago house and relocated back to Mabalacat, to the unoccupied ancestral house of his uncle, Ingkung Pepe Morales that was just next-door to our residence. Now neighbors again, happy days were back for my dad and his favorite brother. They would do so many things together—from running their realty estate business from their office in Mabiga to going out for drinks, PX shopping and painting the town red riding their scooters.

For us, it was also a chance to get even closer with my cousins and there was not a day that we did not drop by each other’s place just to make ‘komusta’. We even attached a line of wire that ran across our two houses which, through a series of pulleys, could be used to exchange written communications with my cousins, when rains made it impossible for us to visit. I remember these years as a happy time for both our families, filled with the animated laughter of Castro kids and relatives.

Unexpectedly, all these came to a sad end when Tatang Titong suffered a stroke while riding his scooter on his way back to the office. He lapsed into a coma and passed away on 17 March 1989, just a few days before his son Ferdie’s wedding. Though my father was not a demonstrative man, I knew he felt the loss of his brother deeply, and I knew his days without him will never be the same again. After all, they were mag-“kapatad”, or ‘kaputul’—cut from the same cloth, born and grown from the same root. More than a “kadaya” (of the same blood), he was a “koyang Dong” to his “waling Tits”, a sibling relationship that had far-reaching influence in the way their lives were lived, creating a strong familial alliance that we, as an over-extended family, continue to uphold today, long after they have left this mortal world.